All posts


Game development








Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.


By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Hitman header tunnel

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Snowball jack header

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

BAFTA Featured

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Sectors Header

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

DXHR Open area

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Heat Signature Natural Numbers

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Pharma Header

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Make A Game Tutorial Thumbnail Featured IMage

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

Her Story banner

What Works And Why: Nonlinear Storytelling In Her Story

My Idea For An ‘Unconventional Weapon’ Game

From Gunpoint To Heat Signature: A Narrative Journey

The Cost Of Simplifying Conversations In Videogames

Invisible Header

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Super Game Jam Header

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

Shadow of Mordor Header 2

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Heat Signature Talk

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX


What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

Murder, She Wrote

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Wide 2

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Heat Signature Floorplans Header

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Steam Workshop

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance Header

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

The Magic Circle

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Blog Launch

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Floating Sine

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point


What’s Your Fault?

Hoplite banner

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Gone Point

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature Thumbnail

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

GRappling Hook Thumbnail

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

Alien Swarm Heroics

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

FTL Story

One Desperate Battle In FTL

Spelunky Banner

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Game vs story graph

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Breakdown

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Max Payne 3

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

This is how you die

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection


Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Skyrim Diary - Frostmere

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

Mainstream Games

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault


A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

Dark Messiah

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot


Arguing On The Internet


Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Stealth Games

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?


E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

Suspicious Manifesto

The Suspicious Developments manifesto


GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole


Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint


Understanding Your Brain

What Makes Games Good

What Makes Games Good

Seat Quest

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Beneath Suspicion

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

Open Worlds

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

Level Up

A Different Way To Level Up

BioShock Ending

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

Meet the Spy

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Football Manager

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE Assassins

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

GalCiv 2

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary


I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

Machine of Death

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood money and sex

Blood Money And Sex


A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Second Life

First Night, Second Life


SWAT 4: The Movie Script

Spelunky Run

A Successful Spelunky Run

After 223 failed attempts, I have completed the Xbox version of Spelunky. Here’s what happened. I’ll name some enemies and items involved, but won’t spoil how I defeated the final boss.

  • Mines 1, first crate: it’s a jetpack! Holy shit, I’m sorted.
  • Mines 4: jetpack for sale! Could have bought one anyway.
  • Jungle 2: I’m rich, but low on bombs when I uncover the Black Market.
  • Before going through, I spend my last bombs mining gems.
  • Pray for bombs on sale.
  • First shop has 36 bombs on sale.
  • Buy 24, then see if I can find more cash.
  • There’s a giant frog. I can boomerang it for profit!
  • I boomerang it twice, and on the second throw, jump to catch it.
  • The boomerang flies underneath me.
  • It hits a shopkeeper in the face.
  • Shopstorm.
  • After six near-death experiences, I get the last two shopkeepers in the Ankh hole and bomb them to death.
  • I loot the shops: 54 bombs, jetpack, shotgun.
  • The Ghost shows up.
  • Grab the Ankh, bomb through to the exit, leave.


  • Ice Caves 2: I find the Easter Island head.
  • I perform the Ankh ritual to get the Hedjet, losing my shotgun in the process.
  • Tomb 1: I encounter the Pharaoh, no shotgun to fight him.
  • No Pitcher’s Mitt either, only short-range sticky bombs.
  • It’s tough. I’m ducking Death Blocks, hopping Tribesmen, teetering on tiki traps, all while a cloud of psionic death floats towards me, and I figure out ways to fight back.
  • Finally blow a path through the walls to him, and just spam: 4, 5 bombs all in his general direction, using the jetpack to get different heights.
  • I jet over. Just some blood, wrappings, and the psionic death staff. Now to never, ever use it in combat, and pray I find the golden door before something kills me.


  • Tomb 2: is pitch fucking black.
  • Trying to keep both the staff and the torch in play is a nerve-shredding nightmare.
  • At one point, I can’t help it: I drop down with the staff and run straight into an angry shopkeeper. I have to use it.
  • The bubble grabs the shopkeeper, slams him into the ceiling, mashes him against the wall, then grabs a priest, shreds him, grabs the resurrected priest, shreds him, and flings his corpse at me.
  • I am terrified of this fucking staff. But I’m at the exit.
  • I still haven’t found the golden door, and this is the second to last level it could be on. Do I dare explore a pitch black tomb level to look for it?
  • Nope.


  • Tomb 3: this is it, my last chance to find the golden door. I work carefully but quickly, making snap decisions and safe calls, but brute forcing my way into every chamber of the level. The golden door is nowhere. I’ve taken this goddamn psionic death staff all the way here for nothing. I killed myself for nothing.
  • Tomb 4: endgame. Might as well try for completion. Dropping this fucking staff though, don’t want to accidentally use it.
  • Jetpack up and throw a rope to hang from while I plan. Gather gold and bombs from the rafters. Plan. Plan more.
  • I have a plan.
  • I try my plan.
  • In the space of about two minutes, I take damage from pretty much every enemy type in the game. I’m down to 2 health. A tribesman’s jumping towards me. The staff is between us. I can’t safely whip him. I can’t lose this last buffer health point. I gulp. I grab the staff. I fire.
  • The bubble grabs the tribesman and smashes him into the ceiling. Olmec stomps towards me. The bubble drops the bloodied corpse on the floor, then heads straight for me with blood-chilling speed.
  • I am never, ever, ever using this staff again.
  • It misses me. It’s going for a frog. It kills the frog.
  • Olmec is above me.
  • I jet away. I drop the staff. I enact the plan.
  • The plan…


  • …works.
  • Everything is dead. The exit is open.
  • I’ve done it! I head to the exit.
  • I head back.
  • I pick up the staff.
  • I head to the exit.
  • I am a wreck. My pulse has been pounding since the pitch-black temple level, and I’m only noticing it now.
  • I always loved the ending of Spelunky on PC – simple, but hugely rewarding. It’s the same here, but with a difference that gives me a little start of joy: my name! I’m in the special thanks!
  • With shaky hands, I pour myself a drink.
  • Total playthrough time: 31 minutes. Score: $210,000.



JohnArr: Congrats! Have a Magnum.

thebeardo: Why, oh why do you not have a "Let's Play" of this??? I think it would be great to watch you play through games like this. :)

Tom Francis: Yeah, I wish I could! Unfortunately Xbox kinda sucks for video capture, I think you need hardware and stuff.

Will definitely be FRAPsing if and when it comes to PC, probably in co-op.

Chris: On my own Spelunky playing front, I was suffering from an intense migraine on Friday afternoon. I went home, took a prescription pain reliever, and in a warm, woozy near-comatose state, made it all the way through Mine and Jungle and got to the Ice levels for the very first time.

I died immediately, but hey, it was the furthest I've ever been and all it took was prescription drugs.

verendus: Why the reluctance to use the staff? Can it kill you in the Xbox version? Also: If you have a DVD recorder, you can run your Xbox through that and into the television to record it.

Tom Francis: Can, and randomly does. At first I thought it was just if you fired it with no-one else around, but I've since had it actively seek me out instead of a nearby enemy.

Zzedar: You ever play a true roguelike? I'd love to hear your take on one of them. I think Nethack would make you explode.

Andrew Doull: Hey - I'm just organising a podcast on Spelunky for Roguelike Radio. I'm trying to get Derek Yu on; failing that, notorious Spelunkyhead Darius Kazemi has confirmed. I'd love to have you on the show if possible.